Myanmar: Journalist and photographer abducted and tortured in Kayin State

A journalist from Frontier Myanmar and a news photographer from The Myanmar Times were detained, beaten and interrogated in the jungle of Kayin State, in south-eastern Myanmar, on March 4 by members of the Karen State Border Guard Force (BGF). The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) condemns the mistreatment of the journalists and calls for an investigation into the incident.

Journalist Naw Betty Han and photographer Ko Mar Naw. Credit: Myanmar Free Press/Irrawaddy

The two media workers, journalist Naw Betty Han and photographer Ko Mar Naw, were on assignment near Border Gate 1 in Myawaddy, Kayin State, taking pictures of heavy machines building a new casino when they were seized by guards. Wearing black suits and armbands with Chinese insignia, the guards ordered them to delete photos. The two journalists had their faces covered and were taken to a nearby rubber plantation, where they were then interrogated by armed men wearing fatigues with BGF armbands.

During the interrogation, Mar Naw was hit several times and kicked in the face, causing his nose to bleed. He said the beating continued despite his apologies and requests not be hit. He was also threatened with a bayonet held to his neck, while others also tried to cut his long hair. The troops also aimed and cocked their guns at Betty Han. After the interrogation, the pair were handcuffed, blindfolded and taken to a small prison in the jungle. Despite identifying themselves as journalists and referring to a BGF major and other officials she had previously interviewed, Betty Han was slapped for allegedly speaking the BGF major’s name.

The two journalists were separated and taken to different enclosures at 2am. The following afternoon, on March 5, they were again masked and forced into a car. They were taken to a BGF office and subsequently released.

Kayin, formerly known as Karen State, sits on the Myanmar-Thai border. The Karen State BGF was formed in 2010 as a splinter group of the now-defunct Democratic Karen Buddhist Army. The force, which is backed by Myanmar’s military, also operates businesses in the area, including a casino and the Chinese-backed Shwe Kokko development project.

Karen BGF head, Colonel Saw Chit Thu, confirmed its officers seized Betty Han for taking pictures at the border gate and that they found notes on casinos and investments in the area.

“We gave no instructions to arrest or interrogate any reporters. We arrested the person who was involved in this incident, who went beyond official orders, and they will be punished. I also instructed the troops not to do this in the future,” he said.

The IFJ said: “Myanmar has a critical obligation to respect press freedom and to ensure that journalists can work in a free and safe environment. Clearly there was more than one person responsible for this attack on the media and all must be held accountable.”

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